Modern-Era SF Artists
Since the 1930's and the advent of pulp SF magazines, many artists have focused their efforts on illustrating SF stories in magazines, and providing cover art for SF novels. Many of these artists are well-known, with easily recognised styles. This feature collects some notes and the famous examples of SF book cover art from artists in the modern era whose work I've particularly enjoyed over the years. This feature doesn't look at the great 'golden age' or pulp era magazine artists, who became most famous for their covers of Astounding and
Galaxy and the like. These artists would include Hubert Rogers, William Timmins, Ed Emshwiller, Kelly Freas and
H. R. van Dongan. Maybe these authors will feature in another article at a later date. However, while they were great classic era SF artists, they resonate less with me, as I grew up pining after books published from the 1970's onwards. From this date, book titles mostly stopped reusing old magazine covers and started using bespoke art painted in more modern styles.
Michael Whelan became the first living artist to be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009 and he has painted over 350 science fiction and fantasy book and magazine covers. He has probably provided more fantasy cover art than science fiction. His art tends to be 'realistic', feature characters from the books in the foreground (typically in warm, late afternoon light), and his illustrations usually provide a good representation of the book's plot and imagery.
Bruce Pennington (b. 1944) has a singular style that is easily recognised. He's one of my favourite SF artists and has provided a number of classic covers in the genre. His paintings tend to show characters in the near or middle ground, in front of considerable vistas stretching into the far horizon, often showing these broad scenes from a high vantage point. They are less 'realistic' than Whelan's style, but convey greater emotional depth and sense of wonder, I believe. His work straddles SF and fantasy, and his style is therefore is well suited to the works he's illustrated.
Anyone who grew up reading SF in the UK in the 70's and 80's will be highly familiar with Foss' work. His signature style was detailed spaceships, often of asymmetrical design, and usually gracing the covers of novels with which the spaceships had no connection whatsoever! And yet, because they looked neat and were on the covers of such classic books, they were popular and, personally, I have nostalgic feelings about them (despite their lack on relevance to the book's contents). He provided covers for just about all the Panther/Granada imprint releases of Asimov's work in the 70's and 80's (which would make a good feature in itself).
John Harris (b. 1948) is a British science fiction artist who won the Chesley Award in 2015 (awarded by the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists). Readers will probably have seen a good deal of Harris' work on the covers of many modern books from popular current authors. His signature style is of spaceship scenes, drawn in a slightly 'smeared' manner, suggesting the use of acrylics or watercolours, though apparently they are predominantly oils. Harris has provided covers for John Scalzi, Jack McDevitt, Ben Bova and others.
Elson (1947-1998) was an English science fiction artist who sadly died relatively young, but who was very highly regarded. His style is typified by sharp lines and fine detail to produce highly futuristic images that seemed almost photo-realistic. Some of his 'spaceship work' looks like that of Chris Foss, but Elson painted figures much more than Foss, and Elson's spacecraft tended to be more colourful and aesthetically pleasing (to me, at least).
British artist Chris Moore (b. 1947) is a giant of modern-day SF, and has provided the covers to many well-known books. His style is to offer up highly futuristic landscapes with good detail, and he's expert at providing a sense of wonder to his paintings. He has provided the covers to many of the SF Masterworks series as well as for books by Philip K. Dick, Joe Haldeman and Clifford Simak.
Welsh artist Jim Burns (b. 1948) has won the Hugo Award for best professional artist 3 times, as well as the BSFA artist award, 12 times! Highly regarded, and responsible for many iconic SF images and book covers, no feature on SF artists would be complete without Burns' inclusion.
Funnily enough, book covers don't seem to do Jim Burns' work complete justice and some of his most famous work was not necessarily produced specifically for books, but as science fiction art. I've added some cropped images from a couple of his pieces below. Jim Burns' official website, from his agent can be found here.